What Constitutes a Criminal Assault?

Forensic psychologists are often called upon to provide an expert opinion in assault cases. They may be required to assess the overall state of a person facing assault charges or the assault victim. It is therefore important to first understand what constitutes a criminal assault charge before a psychological assessment is done.

For most people, the term criminal assault often brings up violent images of fights, brawls, and battery. However, assault and battery are two different legal concepts with distinct elements. An assault can be broadly defined as an throwing a snowball could technically be deemed assault under the right circumstancesattempt or threat to cause bodily injury to another person. The threat or attempt must be coupled with an ability to cause the harm. Battery, on the other hand, is a form of aggravated assault that results in actual bodily harm to another person. Assault and battery are torts and crimes, and as such may result in criminal or civil liability.

Elements of an Assault

An assault charge must consist of an act intended to cause offensive bodily contact with the victim or cause apprehension of such contact to the victim. Such circumstances may include actual threats or behavior that poses a threat to the welfare of others.

The act constituting an assault must be overt or evident to the victim. Assault occurs when there is an open indication of the ability to carry out a threat. Words alone may or may not be sufficient – if coupled with some threatening action, such as reaching out for a weapon and causes a reasonable apprehension of harm in the victim, then an assault can be said to have occurred.

Criminal assault must possess intent. The offender must be shown to have had the intent to commit assault. You cannot commit a criminal assault accidentally. The intent element is qualified if it can be substantially ascertained beyond reasonable doubt that the act resulted in assault. This means that if an individual behaves in a way that is reasonably considered dangerous to others, the behavior is enough to support charges of assault, even if the person’s actions didn’t target a particular person.

There must also be reasonable fear of injury arising from the overt action or behavior of the accused person. The accused must have intentionally put the other person in reasonable fear of his or her safety. For example, holding a gun to a person’s head or in a suggestive manner possesses an element of intent and is a definite act that will produce fear and apprehension to the victim. How an act induces apprehension depends on the status of the victim. For instance, a threat made to a child could be an assault but a similar threat to an adult may not constitute an assault. Basically, the victim must be fully aware of the danger.

Aggravated Assault

An aggravated assault is committed when an individual intends to do more than just frighten the victim. In Florida and other states across the country, aggravated assault is considered and punished as a felony. Examples of aggravated assault include killing, raping, battery, and robbery with violence.


If you are found guilty of committing criminal assault, you may be slapped with a fine, imprisonment, or both. Aggravated assault will attract more severe penalties. Factors considered in the determination of punishment for aggravated assault include the extent of violence and harm, the brutality of the crime, and the criminal intent of the accused. Previous convictions and criminal record of the accused may also be considered while passing judgment. The defendant has several defense options to take depending on the specific circumstances of the case.